A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network led by Kaiser Permanente Southern California reveals that childhood obesity rises, augmented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Involving almost 200,000 children, the study reveals that the pandemic has led to a severe obesity crisis, especially among children between 5 and 11 years old. Corinna Koebnick, Ph.D., led as senior author and observed that weight gains occurred across all age groups during the pandemic. She continued that the youngest kids face the worst situation as those aged 5 to 11 “gained 5 extra pounds, while 16 to 17 year-olds gained 2 extra pounds.” The next result is a 9% boost in obesity for the youngest cohorts—a troubling data point.

Health as a Mission

TrialSite has emphasized the dangers of growing obesity rates in America and other countries. The pandemic has hit those with obesity and other comorbidities particularly hard. Key moving forward is a pivot in the health system to focus on lifestyle commitments to healthy living. This means, as the Kaiser researchers see it, “As children back to school, it will be important to focus on health and physical activity to help children not carry unwanted extra weight into adulthood.” TrialSite suggests the social determinants of health remain a vital factor in understanding the move toward healthier tomorrows, especially in lower socioeconomic cohorts.

The Study

The investigators at one of the largest health systems in America utilized the electronic health records of 191,509 members aged 5 to 17 from Mach 1, 2019 to January 31, 2021. As reported from Kaiser Permanente’s news service, the study team uncovered that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in body weight and in the prevalence of obesity, particularly for children 5 to 11 years old.

  • Youth age 5 to 11 years gained 5.07 pounds more during COVID-19 than during the same period before COVID-19, while youth aged 12 to 15 years and 16 to 17 years gained an excess of 5.1 pounds and 2.26 pounds over the prior year, respectively.
  • Among 5-to-11-year-olds, this weight gain resulted in almost 9% more children becoming overweight or obese compared to 5% in youth aged 12 to 15 years and 3% in youth aged 16 to 17 years. Most of the increase among youths 5-11 and 12-15 years old was due to increased obesity.

Dr. Koebnick emphasized the urgency of this crisis, commenting, “We need to immediately begin to invest in monitoring the worsening obesity epidemic and develop diet and activity interventions to help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight.”

Other Authors

Other authors on the study include co-lead authors Susan J. Woolford, MD, of the Child Health Evaluation and Research Center, University of Michigan, Northville, Mich, and Margo Sidell, ScD, of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation; as well as Veronica Else, RN, of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Yorba Linda, Calif.; Xia Li, MSc, and Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D. of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation; and Ken Resnicow, Ph.D., of School of Public Health, University of Michigan Department of Health Behavior and Health.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of healthcare. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 12.5 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and a team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health. 

Lead Research/Investigator

Corinna Koebnick, Ph.D., MSc, Research Scientist II, Senior Author

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